In order to grasp the full significance of Jesus’ burial, we must consider its fearfulness. It is certainly a morbid exercise to contemplate my own body lying lifeless, shut up in a coffin, and covered with dirt—or, in the custom of Jesus’ day, wrapped tight in linens and laid sidewise in a stone slab cut into the side of a cave. If Jesus is to take away our fear of death, he must face death down and defeat it.
Following his death on the cross, Scripture affirms that Jesus was buried. All four Gospels included an account of his burial, and it is mentioned in both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. But why is this fact included in every Gospel and in brief summaries like the early catholic creeds? What makes the burial such a significant part of our redeemer’s estate of humiliation?
When we compare the Gospel accounts, a number of features stand out. First, Pilate, who ordered Jesus’ execution, directs his soldiers to careful inspect and confirm that Jesus is dead before taking him down from the cross and entrusting his corpse to a sympathetic member of the Sanhedrin. The process of burial confirms the reality of Jesus’ death. Second, Mark relates Pilate’s surprise at how quickly Christ died, reinforcing the theological perspective that he was in control of the timing of his death, making a voluntary offering of himself to God. Third, Jesus is buried in a tomb belonging to the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea. Another godly Jew, Nicodemus, provides a lavish treatment of spices and wrappings customary for Jewish burial. These facts point to the dignity of his death though in the ignominy of crucifixion.